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The big move behind Akhilesh Yadav’s alliances with smaller players in Uttar Pradesh

Apna Dal, SBSP, and Jan Adhikar Party are among half-a-dozen small political players that have formed an alliance with the SP.

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The poll-bound state of Uttar Pradesh has been witnessing a surge of smaller, marginal political parties with most of these forming an alliance with the Samajwadi Party. These alliances, it is being argued, have made the SP a principal contender of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

I briefly look into the phenomenon of the rise of these new players in the state, their origin, social base, and the consequences they have for democracy.


Also read: Why Mulayam Singh Yadav is no longer part of the UP poll campaign 


Voter base…

An analysis of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election results from 1951 to 2017 reveals that the number of registered unrecognised political parties have exponentially increased since the 2002 polls. These are parties that fail to secure the minimum number of votes required to qualify as a state party. Most of these political outfits in Uttar Pradesh officially fall in this administrative category defined by the Election Commission of India.

Source: Election Commission and authors’ calculations. Graphics by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

The cumulative voting percentage of registered unrecognised parties reveals that since 1989, such entities have been able to get a significant vote share with exception in the 1991 election.

Vote share in %. Source: Election Commission and author’s calculations. Graphic by Ramandeep Kaur | ThePrint

…and their social base

According to media reports, over a dozen registered unrecognised parties have gone into alliances. They include the likes of Suheldev Rajbhar Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP), Apana Dal, Apna Dal (S),  Nishad Party, Mahan Dal, Jan Adhikar Party, Janwadi Party (Socialist), Azad Samaj Party, Bhagidari Party, Bhartiya Vanchit Samaj Party, Bhartiya Manav Samaj Party, Janata Kranti Party, Rashtriya Uday Party, Vikashshil Insan Party, Qaumi Ekta Dal, and Peace Party among many others.

The sociological profile of the leadership of these small and marginal parties suggest that a significant number of these have their base among the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) of Uttar Pradesh. The MBCs are marginalised castes/communities of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Some of them have been demanding for SC status, and sub-categorisation of OBC reservation.


Also read: UP elections 2022 are warming up. Guess who’s at the forefront—it’s chhutbhaiyya netas


How they rose

Based on the genealogy of small and marginal parties, there can be four principal causes that explain their rise in Uttar Pradesh: (1) Fragmentation of old parties, (2) Transformation of existing parties, (3) Relative deprivation, and (4) Ethnicisation of castes.

The 1989 election shows the fragmentation of both the old parties the Indian National Congress and the Janata Party. So, many of the small and marginal parties that rose after 1989 belong to either the Janata Parivar or the Congress, some of them later merging with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BSP).

However, in the last two decades, both the BSP and SP have gone through leadership transitions that have resulted in change of electoral strategies and breaking of political loyalties within the organisation. Both parties have witnessed defection of leaders who have formed their own outfits. Besides, these parties have increased their focus on nominating candidates who have the highest winning probability. This approach has killed possibilities for the newly emerging elites of MBCs to be nominated as candidates. Hence, instead of joining an established party, their strategy is to form a new political organisation altogether and then have an alliance with the former.

The MBC communities, from where these small and marginal parties rise, have had common grievances such as of being left out of reservation and other developmental policies. Through their own political parties, these castes/communities have been trying to mainstream their issues, something not possible to achieve by merely supporting the legacy parties.

The ethnicisation of castes is another indispensable factor behind the rise of small and marginal parties, particularly among the MBCs. Ethnicisation refers to a sociological process under which any caste/community becomes autonomous. This sociological category has been widely used by academicians and experts for the purpose of interpreting the politics of the South. The politics in the North, however, is widely understood through the lens of Sanskritisation. Though political anthropologist Lucia Michelutti had found strong evidence of the process of ethnicisation of the Yadav caste in Uttar Pradesh.

In this ongoing process of ethnicisation, the MBCs in Uttar Pradesh have been reinventing their past through creation of myths and narratives to improve their social status. The reinvention of King Suheldeo Rajbhar is part of this sociological process. When the elites successfully establish the idea that the social position of their caste/community was better in the past, when they had their king/queen ruling, the targeted caste/community starts thinking that their social situation would become better in future when they would have reincarnated kings/queens. This messaging leads to people seeing the political leaders as ‘caste king/queen’.

The initial rise of the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati happened in a similar manner when Yadavs and Jatavs successfully accorded the status of king and queen, respectively, to their leaders. Now, the MBCs are trying to repeat this. In my two rounds of field work in Uttar Pradesh, I have widely noticed this phenomenon. So, the rise of small and marginal parties among the MBCs can be seen through the phenomenon of the rise of ‘caste king/queen’.


Also read: Three lessons for Modi-Shah in below-par performance in assembly polls


Consequences

The role of small and marginal parties have not been analysed properly due to the reason that many of them cease to exist after one election. Another reason for lesser focus on such parties is their lower probabilities of making an electoral impact. But that does not mean these entities do not impact electoral outcomes.

There are three potential implications such parties have on electoral outcomes.

First, they play a very important role in creating discontent among masses against the incumbent. The principal opposition political parties often face challenges in mobilising the voters outside their traditional vote base. Small and marginal parties help in this regard. The alliance with smaller players helps the principal opposition party to increase its vote share and cross the threshold where the margin of victory has been narrow.

Lastly, the rise of castebased small and marginal parties gives relief to the mainstream political players in nominating candidates from that caste. This gives scope to nominate candidates form other castes that have found very little representation.

Arvind Kumar (@arvind_kumar__), PhD Scholar, Department of Politics and IRs, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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